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One-woman show 'Remains' mesmerizes at New Hazlett Theater

| Thursday, June 6, 2013, 7:27 a.m.

Beth Corning's “Remains” is a powerful exploration of experiences that will come to all of us if we live long enough.

The one-hour, one-woman show explores memories recalled when life is more than half over, and was performed for the first time June 5 at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.

Corning has explored the perspectives of dancers over 40 for many years in her Glue Factory Project. “Remains” is boldly conceived, emotionally varied and deeply personal, prompted by the loss in recent years of her mother and a close friend.

The new work begins in emptiness and loss with Corning moving across the stage, sometimes with direction, sometimes uncertain. Simply bringing out a pair of a man's black shoes brings focus to the situation. The shoes are symbolic of the memory triggers fired by the packing, unpacking and arranging of a parent's belongings after his or her death.

The first flashback scene is a tour de force in which Corning sets up a table and excitedly says where various family members sat. Then she goes around the table and brings each of them briefly to life through vividly characterizing movements — all in less than a minute.

Back in the present, Corning puts her father's shoes in a cardboard storage box, where we store memories and rediscover them.

More memories are evoked in the next section, “Small Messages,” in which pieces of paper slip out of what looks to be an address book, and, later, small pieces of paper flood the stage like confetti.

This section also is notable for Corning's use of her father's topcoat, most touchingly when she holds it out as though it wasn't empty and with one arm around her shoulders as though he was with her. It's very touching without being cloying. Then, the coat is folded up and put in a box.

There's little dancing in the traditional sense in “Remains.” She has long been into dance theater and created her new work in collaboration with Dominque Serrand, a master of physical theater. Yet, she takes advantage of disciplined legs in a section tagged “There never seemed enough of you to go around,” when she slowly brings two partly filled wine glasses together, and then apart, with the instep of one foot and the sole of the other.

The entire show is marked by imaginative use of stage props, but Corning saves her neatest trick for the end. When she lifts the lid off a large box, its four sides fall down to reveal a little kitchen, complete with a pot of boiling water. She makes a dumpling, puts it in the pot, and then serves it.

The coda is a theatrically bold gesture, but also inevitable and characteristic of Corning's aesthetic orientation. There is no flourish for a decisive conclusion. There is no conclusion at all. But then, Corning always says that her pieces ask questions but she doesn't provide the answers.

“Remains” will be repeated at 8 p.m. June 7 and 8, and 2 p.m. June 9 at the New Hazlett Theater, North Side. Admission is $30; $25 for seniors and students. Details: 412-320-4610 or www.corningworks.org

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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